The East European revolutions of 1989 have had a profound effect on the work of Helsinki Watch. Gratifying beyond our greatest expectations, the transformations in many of the countries in which we have long been involved have also compelled us to reassess our program for the future and to reorder our priorities.
Since its inception in 1979, Helsinki Watch has played a special role in Eastern Europe and the USSR. In the countries where we have been most deeply involved -- Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union -- our contacts, the "dissidents" whose rights we have long defended, are now helping to shape their countries' futures from positions of power. The Presidents of Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland, for example, are each our former colleagues in the human rights struggle, and in these countries, as in the Soviet Union, many former members of Helsinki Committees are now serving as members of the government or Parliament. It has been a thrilling experience to watch this evolution and to see the extent of the goodwill, trust and prestige that we maintain in those countries. There have been many instances that echo the sentiment that Vaclav Havel expressed when he visited the offices of Helsinki Watch during his one-day visit to New York in February 1990: "I feel that I'm here as a friend among friends. I know very well what you did for us and perhaps without you our revolution could not be."
This is not a time for self-congratulation, however. Serious problems remain in Helsinki-signatory countries and it is to those problems that we are now directing our energies. In addition to classic human rights problems, the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Romania and Bulgaria are all in turmoil, frequently rocked by violence and discontent that can be variously categorized as anti-Communist, interethnic, discriminatory against minorities, nationalist and secessionist. Many of these conflicts have human rights ramifications. Despite greater glasnost in these countries, secrecy and suspicion still set the tone for governments confronting unprecedentedly vocal criticism. In many places, Helsinki Watch is still denied access to information and to the right to visit scenes of upheaval. Our difficulties are compounded by the virtual disappearance of the kind of local human rights groups that in the past helped in the collection of human rights information; their members (or those who might have become members of such groups under other circumstances) are now engaged in direct political action.
At the same time, we now have unprecedented opportunity to work directly in countries where in the past we were prevented from conducting overt fact-finding missions and which sometimes denied us entry altogether. During 1990 we sent a series of fact-finding missions to each of the above-mentioned countries, and in two of them, Bulgaria and Romania, we stationed members of the Helsinki Watch staff for lengthy periods. The opportunity to have members of our staff living in these countries, conducting investigations on the spot and organizing fact-finding missions from a local base, has made it possible for us to document a series of human rights violations in Romania and Bulgaria and to produce reports and articles on issues that include the persecution of the Hungarian minority in Romania, the persecution of ethnic Turks in Bulgaria, pre-electoral conditions in both countries, and the situation of the AIDS orphans in Romania.
Helsinki Watch is also devoting a major portion of its activity to monitoring events in the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. The federal structure in each of these countries appears to be disintegrating in the face of declarations of sovereignty or independence by the fifteen republics of the Soviet Union and the six republics of Yugoslavia. Helsinki Watch has established a program of investigating incidents of violence in the various republics and establishing contacts in these often remote places. It is not always easy from afar to extricate the human rights factors involved in some of the violent conflicts that have erupted in the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia -- what role the government played, or refused to play, in the events. Official information tends to obscure and minimize such events and has proven to be unreliable. It has become increasingly clear to us that we must ascertain through on-the-spot inquiries the facts of each case.
We are now engaged in negotiations to open offices in Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, which we will use as bases from which to collect information and to launch missions to the various republics. Even without an office in the Soviet Union, however, we have already sent representatives to conduct our own fact-finding in such far-flung Soviet republics as Kazakhstan, Tadzhikistan, Uzbekistan and Azerbaidzhan. We recently published a report and a lengthy article on Kazakhstan, and we sent a follow-up mission to Kazakhstan after the report was published. Reports on Tadzhikistan and Azerbaidzhan are now in preparation, and we are planning missions to Armenia and Moldavia. We have also sent missions to the various republics of Yugoslavia. We have issued several first-hand reports about the repression of ethnic Albanians in the Kosovo Province of Serbia and have documented recent violence between Serbs and Croats in the Croatian Republic.
When it comes to the countries of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, Helsinki Watch does not have serious differences with the human rights practices of the United States government. Although our agendas are somewhat different, we share a common wish to assure that the new governments in the area respect human rights and democratic freedoms. We worry at times that the administration may be downplaying human rights concerns in the interests of detente. We are concerned at times that the quiet diplomacy that is being used might have more effect on human rights practices if it were more public. But on the whole, our differences are relatively minor and reflect the fact that Helsinki Watch has a single-purpose human rights agenda while the US government must balance human rights concerns with other policy issues.
Helsinki Watch has been more critical about the US government's role in Turkey, where human rights practices have worsened. Helsinki Watch remains concerned about the continued use of torture in Turkey and abridgements of free speech, free press and free association. We continue to urge the US government to use its considerable economic leverage in Turkey to pressure the government to improve its human rights practices. We recently sent our second mission to Eastern Turkey to report on the plight of the Kurds, and we will continue to watch and report on the situation in Eastern Turkey during the months to come.
The end of the cold war and the breakdown of the East-West blocs provides Helsinki Watch with new opportunities in the various forums of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), the "Helsinki process," which heretofore has been used exclusively for East-West confrontations, and where non-Warsaw Pact countries such as Yugoslavia, Turkey, Greece and the United Kingdom, despite documented violations of human rights, have never been the recipients of human rights criticism from the West. Now, with the governments of Eastern Europe friendly to the United States and the other changes resulting from East-West detente, there is the possibility of finding support for raising human rights concerns about all countries involved in the Helsinki process.
Helsinki Watch will continue to pressure the US government to take a more active role in the CSCE process with regard to the human rights practices of all countries, so that the CSCE will evolve into a genuine multinational arena for the discussion and resolution of human rights problems, in the place of its former role as a forum for acrimonious exchanges between the two blocs. To make the CSCE meetings fulfill this new function will require open discussions about human rights problems in all countries, including the United States.
For the 1991 CSCE Human Rights Conference in Moscow, Helsinki Watch, together with the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF), is planning to document abuses in a variety of the countries that signed the Helsinki accords. In addition to reporting on the human rights situation in Romania, the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and Turkey, we plan to release a series of reports: on prison conditions East and West; on various minority problems; on Gypsies in European countries; and on the situation in Northern Ireland. We also hope in the near future to join an IHF mission to Albania. Albania's appliction to enter the CSCE provides leverage for us in gaining access and establishing contacts.
Currently, our work in the newly established democracies of Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary has diminished drastically. Nevertheless, we continue to watch events in these countries and to maintain contacts with the many people we know there. The governments that have come to power there are fragile and inexperienced in the ways of democracy. Beset by economic and social troubles of great magnitude and by the resurgence of long-suppressed ethnic hostilities, even those with the best of intentions may succumb to pressures beyond their control.
Our friends in these countries have frequently turned to us for assistance in the building of their democracies. They need books and teachers, assistance in drafting new legislation and constitutions, information about electoral laws, and so forth. Helsinki Watch has been reluctant to become directly involved in such pursuits, however. We know that our strengths are in fact-finding and reporting on human rights abuses and in pressuring governments to change their practices. There are many educators, legal scholars, election experts and others who are eager to share their knowledge with the new governments in Eastern Europe that are in need of such services. Helsinki Watch has tried to refer such requests to the right people, rather than attempt to fulfill them ourselves. However, when it comes to human rights education, i.e., instruction in the human rights work that we know best, we have been directly supportive.
Helsinki Watch has encouraged the work of a new Human Rights Center established in Poland by the Polish Helsinki Committee. We are in the process of arranging internships in our offices for a Polish activist attached to the Center and also for a Romanian activist who feels the need for on-the-spot training in human rights work. Helsinki Watch also plans to organize, in the spring of 1991, a series of regional conferences on the methodology of investigating abuses of the past. We plan to bring groups in the USSR, Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Bulgaria together with individuals from other parts of the world -- from Brazil, Argentina or Chile, for example -- who can share their experiences in documenting past abuses. Such documentation, and the need for truth and justice, has long been a concern of all the divisions of Human Rights Watch. This is a form of human rights education that we are well equipped to conduct.
In the next few years, Helsinki Watch will monitor the various countries outlined above and, where applicable:
o Continue our established program of documenting and publicizing human rights abuses in all Helsinki-signatory countries.
o Work to convince governments to establish greater access to information and greater freedom for travel and investigation, both for domestic nongovernmental groups and for those from abroad.
o Help the International Helsinki Federation in its work to strengthen and expand the existing network of Helsinki Committees in Eastern and Western Europe.
o Document abuses of the past in countries where such documentation is possible, and work to educate individuals in those countries to take over such documentation themselves.
o Urge that trials of members of the previous regimes be conducted in accordance with the norms of international law, and send observers to such trials to monitor the procedures.
o Document and help protect the rights of ethnic minorities in the various countries that we monitor.
o Monitor electoral conditions in countries where there is reason to believe that such conditions will not be fair and open.
o Help in efforts to establish greater independence for lawyers and judges.
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At the end of 1989, we looked back at a year in which the impossible had become true. Governments long thought to be impervious to change had toppled like a succession of dominoes in the face of mass public protest that, with the exception of Romania, was conducted virtually without violence. The year l989 was exhilarating, the time of the velvet revolutions.
A year later, at the end of l990, we look back at other, less happy events, equally improbable, that have come to pass. The exhilaration is gone. The prospects are often quite grim.
The Soviet Union, its empire dissolving, its internal structures on the verge of anarchy, has become a supplicant, seeking food credits from the West. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia is disintegrating. Riots and demonstrations have been going on, almost without pause, in Romania, Bulgaria and Albania, where current or former Communists still cling to positions of power. Polish Solidarity has been rent by internal strife. Ethnic conflict is rampant throughout the region. In Czechoslovakia, President Havel has been forced to seek extraordinary powers in his efforts to keep the nation from fragmenting.
Helsinki Watch must steer its course through these uncharted waters. Our goal is clear: to promote the cause of human rights by exposing and publicizing violations in all countries, regardless of their political systems or past histories. Now, as never before, we have an opportunity to help and influence the democratic forces in those countries and to drive home the message that the protection of human rights is essential to the creation of free and democratic nations.